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Defence Personnel To Come Home From Solomons


Tuesday, 28 October 2003
136/2003

DEFENCE PERSONNEL TO COME HOME FROM SOLOMONS

Substantial progress in restoring law and order to the Solomon Islands has enabled a reduction in the military forces needed to support police, Defence Minister Robert Hill announced today.

Senator Hill said this was good news for the families of Australian Defence Force personnel who have started returning home from the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

"The balance of ADF personnel and police remaining in the Solomons after the gradual military drawdown over the coming months recognises there is still hard work and some risks associated with the mission," Senator Hill said.

"We will leave two infantry companies in the Solomons to provide ongoing and necessary back up for the police. Relevant ADF elements in Townsville will also be placed on a reduced notice to move in the event of any deterioration in the security situation."

Senator Hill said the Government decided to undertake the withdrawal of Australian forces after consultation with the Solomon Islands Government and Pacific Island countries. This would result in a substantial reduction of personnel deployed to the Solomons by Christmas.

"While there will be a reduced military presence, the Australian Government remains committed to the people of the Solomon Islands and continues to provide specialist support to advance reforms in policing, justice, finance and governance," Senator Hill said.

Around 800 ADF personnel will return to Australia by early December. The elements that are being progressively withdrawn include:

* An engineering group from Townsville which has been working to establish police and military facilities in Honiara and at the remote police posts on Malaita and the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal. The engineers also played an important role in the destruction of weapons as part of the RAMSI gun amnesty. About 50 engineers have already returned to Australia. A number of engineers remain in the Solomons to supervise contractors that are building accommodation facilities for the police.

* Logistic support personnel from Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney who have been coordinating the movement of personnel, equipment and supplies to and from Australia and around Solomon Islands. The bulk of this work has been contracted to the Brisbane-based Patrick Defence Logistics.

* The Army Iroquois helicopter detachment from Oakey in Queensland. The four helicopters have worked alongside a detachment of four Iroquois from New Zealand to support police operations, conduct reconnaissance visits prior to the establishment of RAMSI police posts and facilitate the swift movement of police and military personnel. A commericial helicopter will be contracted to provide aero medical evacuations.

* Logistics support ship HMAS Manoora, homebased in Sydney. With a crew of about 300 personnel and carrying two Army medium landing craft from Townsville and two Sea King helicopters from Nowra, Manoora has been providing a transport, logistic and medical support base. Manoora departed Honiara yesterday.

* Landing Craft Heavy HMAS Betano from Darwin. This vessel has been transporting equipment and personnel and carrying out patrolling activities.

* Navy mine hunter HMAS Diamantina from Sydney which has been patrolling and visiting many of the remote villages and islands. These visits have been important to explain the RAMSI role in restoring law and order in Solomon Islands.

The military forces remaining in the Solomons following the drawdown will comprise:

* An Australian-led combined headquarters in Honiara.

* One ADF infantry company and one composite Pacific Island Countries infantry company with an Australian platoon to provide ongoing security for the police-led operations.

* A logistics element and the Landing Craft Heavy, HMAS Brunei, to oversee the transition of the logistics functions to Patricks.

* A shore-based ADF health and medical support element to replace the facility on board the Manoora.

* Patrol boat HMAS Wollongong from Darwin which has been carrying out patrolling activities across much of Solomon Islands, including in the Shortland Island area near the border with Bougainville.

* The Air Force Caribou detachment and support personnel.

Personnel have been rotated over the time of the operation and those who remain in the Solomon Islands will also be rotated during the next few months.

Senator Hill said the success of the mission was testament to the willingness of Australia's regional partners to work together to achieve stability for the Solomon Islands.

"I congratulate the men and women of the ADF who have taken part in this unique regional commitment," Senator Hill said. "They have played a major role in supporting police to re-establish law and order." Since the first deployments in July, the ADF contribution to the RAMSI Operation Helpem Fren has comprised about 1400 Navy, Army and Air Force personnel to provide security and logistic support to operations.

Regional military contributions have included around 600 personnel from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji.

Details about welcome home ceremonies for returning personnel will be announced later.


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